Person of Interest: Albert Westra
Relationship: Maternal Grandfather
Source Citation: Albert Westra baptismal certificate, First Presbyterian Church (Newton, Sussex, New Jersey), privately held by Jodi Lynn Strait, Tucson, Arizona.
Document Description: The document I have is a copy of Albert’s baptismal certificate. The original is still with his daughter, Martha Strait, in Lafayette, New Jersey. Baptism occurred on 02 January 1958 when Albert was 57 years old and the certificate was issued to the family at time of the event. It’s not very ornate; just a plain paper certificate with black and white printing. The original certificate is 5 x 7 inches. It has no church listed on it but does have the pastor’s signature at the bottom.
Was by me Baptized
in the Name of the Father and the Son
and the Holy Ghost
On the 2nd day of January
In the year of our Lord 1958
L. Rodney Bray [signature]
Analysis: I have been trying to track down new and original documents that aren’t already in my collection for this year’s project. I had wanted to track down my great grandmother Audrey (Hunt) Strait’s baptismal certificate for this post. However, two messages to the First Baptist Church in Newton, New Jersey, went unanswered. Given that, Grandpa Westra’s baptismal certificate got chosen for this post even though it’s already in my collection.
Most baptismal certificates are given to the family as a memento of the event. The church usually records, in their church registers, who got baptized (and ofttimes the parents or sponsors and/or the baby’s birth date/place) as a way to keep track of the church’s activities. The church does not usually keep a copy of the certificate given to the family. In fact, try Googling baptismal certificates and a whole range of certificates in different styles is available for anyone to buy:
So what does this certificate tell me? That Albert Westra was baptized on 02 January 1958 by Pastor L. Rodney Bray. Sadly, not much else. Albert’s parents aren’t listed, the church or town where the event occurred isn’t listed, and his age at the time of the event isn’t listed. This document, for genealogical purposes, is pretty sparse. It does provide a great place to start a further research plan with all the questions it raises:
- Where did this baptism take place? I know, from other research, that he belonged to the First Presbyterian Church in Newton, New Jersey, at the time of the event. Perhaps searching that church’s records would provide more information. Perhaps not…
- How old was Albert at the time? I know, from other research, that he was 58 years old when he was baptized.
- Is this his second baptism? Why, in 1958, did he chose to be baptized? What life event prompted him to be baptized later in life?
- Was he the only one baptized on that day? Perhaps other family members were also baptized then….
This is an original document since it is a direct photocopy of the original in Martha’s possession. It is primary information since Pastor L. Rodney Bray was certifying that he was the one who baptized Albert and recorded this certificate at the time of the event. It is direct evidence for the research question, “When was Albert Westra baptized?” The answer is a direct 02 January 1958. It is indirect for a variety of other research questions including, “When and where was Albert Westra, of Newton, New Jersey, baptized?” Other documents must be combined with this one in order to fully answer this question.
Baptismal certificates can be of varying genealogical use. As you can see, this one has limited value. However, don’t let this singular example stop you from tracking down baptismal certificates from your family. Personally, my baptismal certificate is much more robust. It has my parents, my baptismal name (different from my legal name), birth date, place of birth, baptismal place and date (putting me in a specific location at a specific time), sponsors, the reverend, and the church along with its location. Baptismal certificates can point you in the right direction to locate church records that could lead to all sorts of birth, marriage, and death records within a family group.